31 Scary Movies: ‘Dead of Night’

Art House Film Wire is celebrating Halloween with 31 scary movies in 31 days, and Day 2 means Review #2, about the influential and stylish, “Dead of Night”!

“Dead of Night” (1945) – This feature film finds its footing within an episodic format, as four directors – Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden, and Robert Hamer – contribute their talents to spin five weird stories of the supernatural that baffle the on-screen characters.

“Dead of Night” was way ahead of its time, and it feels like an out-of-sorts combination of “The Twilight Zone” (1959 – 1964) and “Creepshow” (1982) which, of course, didn’t reach television sets and movie theatres until 14 years and 37 years later, respectively.

As the film opens, Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns) drives up to a spacious farmhouse, and once inside, he claims that he has already met the five strangers that greet him in the study.  Now, he cannot explain it, but Walter has seen each person in a repeated dream that ends with unfortunate consequences.

Of course, this notion is easily dismissed, because everyone maintains they have never come face-to-face with Walter at all, but after a while – via his persistence – each individual is reminded of a strange occurrence from their recent past.  One by one, Hugh (Anthony Baird), Sally (Sally Ann Howes), Joan (Googie Withers), Eliot (Roland Culver), and Dr. Van Straaten (Frederick Valk) each take their turns to tell an odd personal, paranormal experience.

As the film progresses, each chapter becomes increasingly stranger, and the best story – about a ventriloquist and his dummy – is saved for last.

Hey, it’s not all gloom and doom, because Crichton brings some levity with “Golfing Story”, where one golfer haunts another because of an alleged cheating incident.  It’s a needed reprieve before “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy” – that includes a creepy performance by Michael Redgrave – takes its turn.

This smartly-constructed and paced film keeps us way off balance, and it would come as no surprise if Alfred Hitchcock was a big fan of “Dead of Night”. One particular scene will remind moviegoers of Old Hitch’s masterpiece “Psycho” (1960), and no, it’s not the shower scene.

Don’t rent or stream “Dead of Night” in order to spend a frightful evening with a glowing TV set as your sole companion.  Rent or stream it to experience a classic that feels no need to explain the unexplainable.

Image credits:    ; Trailer credits: Swansesgrand (YouTube)

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